At first it was a feeling of shock, then disappointment. How could the 2020 John Deere Classic be canceled?
Here was a tournament that struggled at times to just stay on the PGA Tour, a difficult task for any event in a small market. And, this year’s July 6-12 staging at TPC Deere Run in downstate Silvis was to mark the JDC’s 50th anniversary. Lots of special events were planned. It would have been fun.
Plus, the JDC was being billed as the first tournament on the PGA Tour to allow spectators since concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic halted the season on March 12. That would have made this JDC special, too.
All that was not to be. Clair Peterson, one of the most respected tournament directors in all of golf, announced the JDC’s cancelation on May 28.
“It certainly wasn’t what anyone wanted,’’ said Peterson, “but it was the right decision, for sure.’’
Once Peterson elaborated on the decision I could see his point. There really was no other option, though various possibilities were considered by the tournament staff, sponsor John Deere and the PGA Tour for a month before the announcement was made.
As to the JDC being the first tournament to welcome spectators, Peterson said that was misleading.
“The first announcement (from the PGA Tour) said the first four tournaments (the Charles Schwab Challenge, RBC Heritage Classic, Travelers Championship and Rocket Mortgage Classic) wouldn’t have fans but it didn’t say that the John Deere would,’’ said Peterson.
The fans – that’s where the problems started.
“Having fans vigilant about observing social distancing are mutually exclusive, if you think about it,’’ said Peterson. “It’s almost impossible to provide a safe environment in an event with fans.’’
Fans are quickly packed together once they arrive at the course. They ride shuttles together, they go through security together, they stand together while watching play. There really is no way to keep them apart at a tournament like the JDC, which has been blessed with a large, supportive fan base. So, fans – it was decided – wouldn’t work at the JDC. It would relegate the tournament to just a TV show, and that’s not what the JDC is all about
“Once you’re without fans you lose all three of your pro-ams, and that’s a million dollars,’’ said Peterson. “Guests are not interested in coming and revenue is dramatically affected.’’
Even without fans the players, tournament staff and volunteers have to be protected. The John Deere clubhouse isn’t big by PGA standards. Players needed a six-foot space around them to accommodate safety requirements. That wasn’t possible.
Governmental restrictions required that all parking be done on site. Shuttles for caddies and media were ruled out. The JDC staff couldn’t solve that problem, either.
“It was a tough task that has nothing to do with anything but safety, and John Deere is very serious about that,’’ said Peterson, noting that Deere has been manufacturing face shields as part of its effort to combat the virus.
Other tournament sponsors have also been helping, of course, and Peterson expects many will have answers to the problems that the JDC didn’t have in putting on their tournaments.
“Every event is different,’’ said Peterson. “Different states have different regulations. Some title sponsors have different philosophies. Some events have larger clubhouses and parking lots. Maybe they can pull it off, and we’re rooting for them. People are getting a little understanding of what these events are facing to safely bring golf back. We just couldn’t check all the boxes.’’
The PGA Tour said another tournament would soon be announced to fill the dates left vacant by the JDC’s cancelation.
One thing the JDC didn’t lose in canceling its tournament was its Birdies for Charities program. It remains in operation. Last year 543 area and regional charities shared a record $13.8 million raised from the tournament. This year the participating charities, even without a tournament being held, will receive a 5 percent bonus from John Deere for their money raised.
Many of the tour players contacted Peterson after the cancelation announcement and were sympathetic with the plight of the tournament. The 50th anniversary will be celebrated in 2021 instead of 2020 and Quad Cities author Craig DeVrieze will delay publication of his much-anticipated book on the tournament’s colorful history. Dylan Frittelli will return as the defending champion, two years after his victory instead of one.
Traditional July dates – the week before the British Open, which was also cancelled this year – are expected to continue in 2021.
“Our expectation is that things will be back to normal,’’ said Peterson.
One can only hope for that.